Waldorf education has a reputation for being easy and for not offering much, if any, hard core academic learning. This opinion is based on the fact that Steiner promoted the idea that a child should be taught to read only after having attained the age of 7 years, or more specifically after the child has lived for 7 springs. The change of the eye teeth is another indicator of reading readiness. The idea being that children must be developmentally ready to read and that early reading, early academic pressure of any type, will cause physical problems to arise. Somehow people interpret this ‘better late than early’ approach to academics to mean that academics are never taught. Not true.
Yes, Steiner was a spiritual man. Mystical even. And if you’re a skeptic then this is probably a bit hard for you to swallow. I get that. He firmly taught that what happens with our brain affects our physical body.
As to the academics, once the child begins reading there is a lot of hard and focused work that goes on. Children, for example, learn the 4 processes all at the same time not spread out over the course of years as in what have become our more traditional schooling methods. By the end of 3rd grade all of the multiplication tables should be memorized (up to 12) and the child has begun long division.
Perhaps it is the art that puts people off, makes them believe that this can’t be *real* learning? Surely there are those who believe that if you can draw a beautiful picture and write a paragraph on the topic you’re studying, there’s some flaw.
For 4th grade we have a long list of things to accomplish. Zoology, Native Americans (history, sociology, art, myth), grammar, memorization of various poems, letter writing, the tenses, local geography and history, form drawing, arithmetic to include patterns and codes, fractions, abundant and deficient numbers, and ratios, and Norse Mythology. We are studying Beowulf in addition to the Norse Myths which we covered in the Spring for personal reasons but we are reviewing the myths.
There are also subjects that are ongoing for the entire year like foreign language. For us, this year, that is Spanish. We have a tutor and an online program for that.
Swerving a little from the strictly Waldorf, we also read. A lot. Living books about Vikings have been our focus for the first semester of this year. My 4th grader also reads on her own and by assignment from the great variety of age-appropriate books that have won Newberry Honors and are traditional for children her age. These books are simply something I believe she must read in order for her to be culturally literate. Then there’s 4H, hippology, piano, ukelele and our lives for further study.
Does all of that sound like educational neglect to you? Certainly, it doesn’t to me. It’s easy to think we are doing so much more than the neighbors to educate our children but do we really have any idea what the neighbors are doing? Probably not. Maybe the neighbor kids are really good at building model airplanes and will someday design real aircraft. That’s a pretty cool thought. Over here the kid knows a few things that her friends probably don’t: always close the gate; watch the horses; the difference between salt bush and aster; how to castrate a lamb; how to bury a beloved pet and live through the pain. She can also multiply, divide and read Harry Potter. The most important things for me as her parent are that she is kind, empathetic, physically healthy and incredibly self-aware.
Would things be different if I had let her read at 4? Would she be less happy, less likely to twirl around and around in her dress? Less healthy? I don’t know and there is no real way *to* know. What I do know is this: Waldorf is not simple or easy but is deep and thorough and by the time we’re finished with high school the child will have been through physics and will be able to polish a 5 paragraph essay with the best of them. Hopefully she will also be centered, thoughtful and happy to have her dress bell out around her as she dances.
*We do not follow a strictly prescribed diet of pure Waldorf theology. We incorporate other educational philosophies into our homeschool. We do use Steiners educational philosophy as the base of our studies.